Having been granted an exemption to travel from Australia to Eden on compassionate grounds to arrange her brother’s funeral and affairs, Rebecca Ford is now struggling to get a flight home following the closure of Melbourne airport to international arrivals.
Rebecca, aged 34, flew out to the UK from her home in Melbourne on 8th August following the suspected suicide of her 36-year-old brother, James Ford. He had been found deceased at Gale Lonning, Bale Hill Wood, Melmerby, on 3rd August.
Carlisle-born Rebecca emigrated to Australia at the age of 11 months along with her parents, Richard and Jean, and then three-year-old James.
Her brother had returned to England in his 20s, living initially in Bristol, and Rebecca also lived there for nearly three years before going back to Australia, which she considers to be very much her home.
As her flight over was via Hong Kong rather than the Middle East, she did not have to self-isolate on her arrival into England, but had no idea she was about to join an estimated 25,000 Australians who are now stuck in the UK.
“What it feels like is that all of the grief and everything I am dealing with — it’s almost like I can’t even properly process it.
“I have to mentally put it on a shelf because every day is a struggle.
“I am just in a constant state of uncertainty, anxiety, it’s tortuous. I ring and call my parents every day, grieving the loss of their only son.
“They are beside themselves as they don’t know when I will be coming home, either,” said Rebecca.
James had been staying with their aunt, Rita Mark, at the family home in Melmerby, where their mother Jean (nee Falder) was brought up, before the tragedy — a tragedy the family feels was an unfortunate result of the many indirect effects of coronavirus worldwide.
Rebecca had to apply to the Australian government, because of coronavirus restrictions, in order to get clearance for travel and needed her brother’s post mortem expedited so an interim death certificate could be released.
After being granted an exemption to travel on the basis of compassionate grounds Rebecca also booked a return flight for 9th September. She landed in the UK on 9th August and the funeral was on 13th August.
Two weeks prior to her scheduled flight, Rebecca spoke with the Australian High Commission in London (Consulate) and was advised of the complete closure of Melbourne airport to international arrivals.
“This was the first time I was made aware of this, particularly as I had a return ticket booked to Melbourne and no advice from either the airline or government advising otherwise.
“The consulate then advised that my flight will be cancelled and I must try and book another, but be conscious that many Australian citizens are being bumped within hours of the flight, sometimes even when they arrive at the airport.
“They are stories of people who have been stranded here for six months because they are getting bumped off flights at the last minute because the Australian government are putting caps on flights — meaning sometimes there are as little as 15 people on flights going into Australia,” said Rebecca.
Back home she is a legal assistant, working in civil litigation, and has been told her position is still there — but appreciates that it might get to a point, if she can’t get back, they might feel it is untenable and will have to hire someone else.
She is also missing her partner Chris, who has had to care for Richard, Jean and his own mother while working full-time.
Richard and Jean, are both in their 70s, with father Richard suffering from emphysema meaning both are deemed high risk and so couldn’t travel over for the funeral.
Rebecca has said the support her family has received from the Cumbrian community had been “nothing short of breathtaking”.
“I am truly touched by the absolute love and warmth given to me during this most difficult time for my family and despite these devastating circumstances, I retain the perspective that I am incredibly fortunate to be embraced by some of the most genuine and caring people in the world,” said Rebecca.
She has now found a flight for 15th October with an airline, but still faces “complete uncertainty”.
“It has cost £6,500 one-way and at the moment I still don’t have certainty that I can turn up to the airport and won’t be bumped.”
In addition, now she can’t fly into Melbourne, Victoria, she can only get a flight into another state and that has a mandatory hotel quarantine for two weeks.
However, because it is not her home state, when she flies into her home state, she has to do another two weeks isolation before she can even see her parents.
“I’ve been trying to appeal to them saying I appreciate everything that is going on, but have been asking ‘can you please help me because not only am I struggling to get a flight, even if I get that flight I can’t see my parents for another month so I just need to get onto Australian soil and begin the next part of this gruelling journey.
“Australia is my home. I am a proud citizen. I love that country and its people. Like so many in similar positions, I pay my taxes, I vote and I give back to the community.
“I understand that this is a global pandemic and do not begrudge hotel quarantine and testing procedures, but I’ve now lost my brother to this, and worry daily about my parents’ health risks. I just wish the Australian government cared enough to help me get home,” said Rebecca.